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Birds of Paradise - Habitat Loss

species guinea beehler feathers

Although much of New Guinea is still covered with rainforest, extensive areas are being logged or converted to agriculture. Moreover, because of population growth and economic development the habitat destruction by deforestation will increase in the future. Some species of birds of paradise are found in highly limited ranges, so deforestation of their local habitat could result in their extinction. Other species are found throughout New Guinea, but only within a particular altitudinal range. For example, the blue bird of paradise occurs only between 4,200 and 5,900 ft (1,300-1,800 m). This species is under pressure from habitat loss associated with human colonization at these altitudes.

In addition to habitat loss, many species are threatened by overhunting. After Europeans discovered the birds, the demand for their plumage to use as decoration increased, so that by 1900 the populations of many species were greatly reduced. At present, the importation of bird of paradise feathers into the United States and most of Europe is illegal. However, bird of paradise feathers and skins continue to be of great cultural importance for the indigenous highlanders of New Guinea, who use the feathers in headdresses and other decorations.

Six of 24 species of New Guinea birds thought to require urgent conservation action are birds of paradise. To conserve the birds of paradise of New Guinea, a network of large rainforest reserves must be designated. The network of protected areas should be designed to include large areas of the habitat of all New Guinea birds of paradise. The reserves would also provide habitat for many other rare species of New Guinea wildlife. If these reserves are to be successfully established, they must be managed in a manner that also provides sustainable livelihoods for the indigenous people of the area. One of the great challenges of the future will be to balance human development with environmental conservation.

Resources

Books

Beehler, Bruce M. A Naturalist in New Guinea. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1991.

Beehler, Bruce M., Thane K. Pratt, and Dale A. Zimmerman. Birds of New Guinea. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Frith, C.B., and B.M. Beehler. The Birds of Paradise: Paradisaeidae. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Perrins, C.M., and A.L.A. Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File, 1985.

Raven, Peter, R. F. Evert, and Susan Eichhorn. Biology of Plants. 6th ed. New York: Worth Publishers Inc., 1998.


Periodicals

Beehler, Bruce M. "The Birds of Paradise." Scientific American 261 (December 1989): 116-123.


Amy Kenyon-Campbell

KEY TERMS

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Cryptic

—Drab, usually brownish coloration that makes an organism difficult to see in its natural habitat and allows it to hide from predators.

Lek

—A central area in which many males of a species perform mating displays simultaneously.

Montane

—Habitat on relatively cool, moist mountain slopes below the tree line.

Sexual bimaturism

—A condition in which the males and females of a species become sexually mature at different ages.

Sexual dimorphism

—The occurrence of marked differences in coloration, size, or shape between males and females of the same species.

Subalpine

—Habitat on high mountain slopes, above the treeline.

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